April 13, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio

The past two pandemic years have had a crushing impact on show organisers in Australia and around the world. But one independent Australian company went against the trend and leveraged the period to expand its footprint.

micenet caught up with Brad Langton, chief executive of Gold Coast-based exhibition and events business National Media, to take a look at what makes the company different.

National Media has always been ambitious and creative, especially when it comes to incubating new shows. Founded by Mark Harvey, the business had a special knack for picking new trends, launching new shows and then on-selling them to other organisers.

The company sees its world as much bigger than expos. It says they work in the business information, events and media sectors. They have launched and scaled many shows and sold them to companies like News Limited, Diversified Communications, Global Links, Reed Exhibitions and Terrapinn.

Harvey carefully studies overseas trends and then looks at their application in Australia. National Media rode the fascination with cupcakes and home baking and launched Cake, Bake and Sweets. It also pursued the boom in organic and gluten free food and created shows in these sectors.

Now with its expanded team and Langton in the CEO role, its future can be seen through a different lens. It has evolved its business model.

According to Langton, the incubator model has changed at National Media. The company now holds onto high-performing sector shows and acquires shows from other organisers.

Langton is pumped about the future and the innovation National Media is driving. The company successfully ran Interiors Australia in February and will launch a B2B Fitness+Wellness Australia event in June at ICC Sydney. It has also acquired DENFAIR – a specialist event in architecture and design.

DENFAIR and Interiors Australia will be consolidated into Design Show Australia, positioning it in the big league for all things aesthetic, design and architecture.

The company is also tackling the huge opportunity in the digital marketing sector with MKTG.LIVE.

Here’s Part one of micenet’s exclusive interview.

How are you feeling about the state of the expo industry after the smashing it has had over the past two years?

Saying it’s been tough would be an understatement, but most of the hurdles and hoops we’ve faced as an industry have been removed. Or at worst, controlled in a way that allows us all to get back to doing what we do best.

It’s important that we’ve planned for some of these things to pop up again in the future. It’s that uncertainty that still keeps a cloud hanging over the full return of the industry.

As I listen to media talk about travel ‘being back’, I firmly believe the pent-up-demand for getting back face-to-face for tradeshows is equally as strong.

This isn’t just on the attendee side either. Brands are desperate to reconnect with as many of their past, present and future customers as possible. We’re fortunate to provide the most powerful and cost effective medium to do just that.

What did you do during the lockdown years of COVID – how did you future proof the business?

As we saw our industry organiser peers closing down and consolidating exhibitions, reducing headcount and going virtual, we rolled the dice and did near the opposite.

We strategically recruited, acquired a show we had admired for some time, launched two new large-scale in-person shows and focused on nurturing our existing portfolios and the stakeholders in those industries.

As the sun starts to rise for the industry, and as tradeshows return, it feels like we’ve made some positive decisions that will have our business come out of COVID almost twice as large as we went in.

However, we’re still at the mercy of the virus and Government decision-making.

How have you set up to prepare for the opportunities that will emerge as industry starts to rebound?

We spent the last two ‘COVID’ years developing new trade shows for market.

You’re seeing the first of those products in the market and running or ready to run now – Interiors Australia ran in February, Fitness+Wellness Australia [is] coming up in June, and MKTG.LIVE [is] now launched. We’ll continue to roll out these new exhibitions to market over the next few years.

It’s important to give each launch the focus, love and attention it deserves, and as such we’ll emerge and grow at the ‘right’ pace for our business to ensure success for each new industry portfolio.

What’s on the horizon for National Media? New shows? New industries?

Lots! We’re currently on a recruiting drive to support our growth, and we’re a pretty attractive opportunity with our HQ out of the Gold Coast where we enjoy 300 days of sunshine a year.

We have entered the fitness and leisure sector with the first pure B2B tradeshow in many years for the industry with Fitness+Wellness Australia, launching at the ICC Sydney in June this year and tracking spectacularly.

We have ramped up our presence in interior architecture and design through the acquisition of DENFAIR and the launch of Interiors Australia. These events co-located in February this year as the first major exhibition in the country and proved that shows were back. More than 7,000 people attended and we were very pleased with this result. These shows will consolidate and rebrand to Design Show Australia as we grow the exhibition offering.

Technology is a big area we’re starting to play in, and our newest launch MKTG.LIVE is the first major free-to-attend expo and conference for the world of digital marketing, advertising and technology.

With an estimated 90,000+ marketers in Australia responsible for driving sales success in all types of businesses, it presents a very compelling opportunity to bring modern marketers face-to-face with the tools that can help them excel at their jobs.

We have in development five new events across health and medical, technology and a few other industries which I need to keep under wraps for now – it’s exciting times for us.

What’s different about National Media compared to other organisers? Will you still be an “incubator” or will you go down the path of legacy organisers and hang onto brands? Or will you be a buyer of shows?

By DNA our business is about building new trade shows for industries that don’t have them, which I think is unique to most organisers.

It makes us entrepreneurial every day. We are a 30 year-old start-up with a pretty special knack for scaling amazing shows quickly. We’re also quite nimble, we’re not afraid to change a brand, rework the format or pivot an entire show if the industry is telling us so – we spend a lot of time listening.

Incubator, growing organiser or buyer? I’d say a mix of all three. We’re in a new phase of the business with the number of new trade shows we’ve brought to market and so the strategy is to really build out a much larger operating business which will see us double our headcount in the next 12 months.